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Using Your Immune System to Stay Well

Experts explain how you can tap the power of your immune system to avoid getting sick.

Vaccine Recommendations

According to the CDC, the recommended vaccines for children and adolescents include hepatitis A and B, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, polio, pneumococcus, and Haemophilus influenza type B -- called HiB.

The CDC says seniors need vaccines against pneumococcus and the flu, as do all adults who may be immunocompromised by diseases such as HIV or cancer. Everyone needs to update their tetanus vaccine once every 10 years, while those who work in high-risk jobs (like hospital workers) need vaccines for hepatitis A and B. The CDC recommends all children age 11-18 get a vaccine for meningitis. It is also recommended for people at elevated risk of getting the disease, such as travelers to countries with high rates of meningococcal disease.

What Affects Immunity

Much like soldiers who grow weary in battle, your immune cells can also lose some of their protective effects when your body is constantly battling poor health habits. As such, it's not surprising that doctors frequently recommend certain lifestyle changes as a way to optimize the function of your immune system.

"The most important thing you can do for your immune system is to achieve lifestyle balance and adopt the fundamentals of healthy living. This will give your immune system what it needs to function at optimal capacity," says Merrell.

At the top of that balance list: reducing stress.

"There is overwhelming evidence that stress -- and the substances secreted by the body during stress -- negatively impacts your ability to remain healthy," says Charnetski.

Merrell agrees: "There are dozens, if not hundreds of studies attesting to how stress affects the body's ability to respond to infection."

The good news is that lowering your stress can help your body maintain both your physical and your emotional health.

"People who have less stress are simply healthier overall," says Charnetski.

Sleep, Sex, and Working Out

Remember when Mom used to say that staying out too late would cause you to get sick? Mom was right! Experts say that not only does prolonged sleep deprivation wear down immune protection but getting adequate rest can help boost your defenses.

"We don't know the exact mechanism by which sleep impacts immunity, but we do know that a lack of it prevents the body from repairing cells. And when we skip that important physiological step, we get sick more easily," says Tierno.

To help give your immune system an extra boost during cold and flu season, Charnetski says get seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

And if you can't sleep … try a little "immune sex therapy." Charnetski says that having sex gives immunity a healthy boost of IGA (a protein from the immune system that helps fight infections), which plays a critical role in keeping pathogens from entering your body -- and capturing those that do sneak in.

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